The Debate Over Handheld Devices for Babies & Children

There has been a hurricane of cyber-buzz this past week over a Huffington Post piece entitled, “10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12.” It went viral, natch.

What I want to say about that piece is:

a) it is a comprehensive collection of research that should be of critical interest to parents

b) I am not the type to seek bans on such things; rather, I advocate that we, as humans, develop mastery and dominion over these creations of ours. Let our Frankenstein’s monsters work for us rather than against us.

As my daughter Eve once said, “We’ve all been baptized in technology.” Boy, did that spin me around and send me thinking. I wrote the following Parenting for Peace passage in reference to birth technology, but it applies just as powerfully to these questions about handheld devices:

Yes, most of us have been baptized in technology, so let us embrace the blessings of our modern brilliance, which was originally meant to bring freedom. Nothing has the power to control us once we can name the players and the game, once we can free ourselves from the prevailing fear-based group think and become capable of making choices that are in the best peacemaking interests of ourselves, our children, and the vibrant future of humanity.

By sheer coincidence, I also wrote a related piece here at on the same day as the HuffPo article, “Does Siri Thwart Social Intelligence?” It doesn’t duplicate the above material, but rather zeroes in on this one aspect of concern related to handheld devices and brain development.

Included in my post is a video of a child’s “conversation” with Siri, which (in my humble opinion) sees, and raises, the chill factor of the famous “conversation” between the human and the machine in 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Dave: “Open the pod bay doors, HAL.” HAL 9000: “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”) At least Hal accurately perceived and responded to what Dave had actually said!

And today, a powerful rebuttal to that HuffPo piece appears with its own compelling points:  “10 Reasons Why We Need Research Literacy, Not Scare Columns” is chock-full of things we all should keep in mind in this omni-media era of fact-check slippage, fuzzy logic and wild generalizing.

As I already said, I agree with the authors’ first point: why jump straight to banning?

As for their point #3 — Parents, you need to decide for yourselves if you’re willing to wait for case-controlled, double-blind studies (which may come in 5 or 10 years, or never) to definitively assess the affects of handheld devices on your children’s psycho-social development.

Echoing my post above, keep in mind Daniel Goleman’s admonition from his book Social Intelligence:

“This inexorable techno-creep is so insidious that no one has yet calculated its social and emotional costs.”


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About Marcy Axness

I’m the author of Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers, and also the adoption expert on Mothering’s expert panel. I write and speak on prenatal, child and parent development and I have a private practice coaching parents-in-progress. I raised two humans, earned a doctorate, and lived to report back. As a gift to Mothering readers I’m offering a unique 7-step parenting tool, my “Quick-Start Guide to Shifting Your Child’s Perplexing, Stuck Behaviors.”


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